Child Welfare & Juvenile Justice

Queer Youth in the Sex Trade

Meredith Harper Houston

Swan Within: Healing Through Ballet

Workshop Session #2

9AM - 10AM -

Session Overview

The commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC) is a national and global shame.  300,000 U.S. children each year are brought into the world of unwanted trading of sexual acts for money, shelter, food, etc., nearly always for the benefit of others. The GLBTQAI2-S population is an oft-forgotten segment of CSEC, comprising a minimum of 15% of all exploited youth.  However, they are criminalized, arrested, abused, and killed at rates far higher than their hetero-identified counterparts. This presentation will cover the intersection of CSEC with the GLBTQAI2-S community.   We will examine entry trends of GLBTQAI2-S youth, the unique barriers they face within the CSEC culture and in exiting CSEC, and the crossover of straight youth in the promotion of gay-CSEC “services.” A design for an exciting program model will be discussed, and some clinical consideration will be given for psychotherapists working with this population.


Meredith Harper Houston is an educator, advocate, business owner, non-profit Founder/Chair, choreographer, and survivor of sexual abuse.  Her Merryland Dance Studio teaches children and adults ballet, jazz, tap and hip hop. The staff connects with each dancer and considers personal limitations with kindness and acceptance. This ideology led Meredith to create an academic dance curriculum for preschools and LAUSD elementary schools in the Greater Los Angeles Area. In addition to owning her own dance studio, Meredith is the Founder and Chair of Swan Within: Healing Through Ballet, a non-profit company that empowers and provides ballet to incarcerated teen girls who have been involved in the commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC), sexual abuse, and physical abuse. Inspired by her own history of physical abuse, Meredith says, “I want to create a safe space for girls who have gone through abuse so they can have full agency over their bodies in a way that is beautiful and not sexualized.” Her mission is to inform peers about the reality of CSEC and works tirelessly to interrupt the misconception about CSEC and sexually exploited youth. A dancer since the age of four, Meredith began studying at the Joanne Reagan Dance Studio, which was followed by a stint at the Philadelphia Dance Company, then to University of the Arts Summer Intensive with Judith Jameson and finally at the Alvin Ailey Studios in New York. During her 17 years as a choreographer, Meredith’s clients have included Alicia Keys, T-Pain, Ludacris, Jamiroquai, Panic! At The Disco and television programs such as Saturday Night Live, MTV Music Video Awards. Mrs. Houston is a community partner with Mayor Garcetti’s Blue Ribbon Commission for the Office of Reentry – a service that helps give formerly incarcerated Angelenos the second chances they need and deserve. As a community partner, Mrs. Houston is a valued advocate and expert in youth justice, special- ized diversion programming designed to encourage wellbeing among incarcerated youth. Meredith’s talents extend to the pages of Jones magazine where she served as Beauty Director from 2011 to 2014. She is currently a contributing writer at The Huffington Post and Daily Beast.